A few weeks ago in one of my classes, we were talking about gender and education. We talked about how “all of us women remember how we played with barbies” or “every woman remembers wanting to gussy up to impress the boys”. To the contrary, not every woman has had those experiences. In the same way, not every man “acts a fool” in order to impress a woman. It oppresses those people outside the gender binary to assume those things.
We are socialized to understand what it means to have a female body or a male body. There is no scientific basis for gender, it is a social construct. Think for a moment about how you know you are the gender you believe yourself to be. If you present as a woman, how do you know you are a woman? If you present as a man, how do you know you are a man?
In a class where we are taught to hear every voice and explore every culture, we are blatantly ignoring the fact that there are members of our society who do not subscribe to the expected gender norms. There are people who were born into a male body and now present as female; there are people who were born with a female body who now present as male; and there are people who were born into a female or male body and who present themselves androgynously; there are people who were born with a mixture of chromosomes or reproductive organs who must decide which gender to present themselves as being.
For all of my life, I have never had a classroom experience that oppressed my racial identity; this is a product of my white privilege. However, every time we discuss gender in our classrooms we still cling tightly to the assumed understanding that there are only two genders, male and female. We never consider that there are people who have a disconnect between their sex and gender, and we never consider that someone could choose to live their life fitting the gender norms of neither male nor female.
In this class we spent a lot of time discussing “what is race?” and “what is ethnicity?”. But on the day we were slated to discuss gender, there is no discussion about what gender is. To me, this indicates that there should be no question about what gender is, and that we all ‘know’ is that there are men, and there are women. When discussing gender from a multicultural perspective we only discuss the oppression of women throughout history. We do not discuss the oppression of transgender individuals, transsexual individuals, androgynes, intersex individuals, or genderqueer individuals. In fact these individuals are not even mentioned and thus continue to remain invisible. And even in those rare instances where gender identity is discussed, it is only as a footnote to the already brief discussion on sexual orientation.